On Learning Anytime, Anywhere (WISE 2011)


Jaume Piensa
 Rosa-María Torres

This is a compilation of my interventions at the "Learning Anytime, Anywhere" session held at the World Summit on Innovation in Education (WISE 2011) in Doha, Qatar, 1-3 Nov. 2011.

The format adopted by WISE for the debates required no presentations by the speakers but individual questions posed by the Chair of the session as well as questions coming from the audience and through Twitter. This format favors flexibility and dynamism, but it also limits a more contextualized and holistic understanding of the speakers' viewpoints and backgrounds.

The text below is a reconstruction of the oral interventions. It may not reflect the exact words of such interventions, which were interspersed with those of the other speakers.

Four people participated in this debate #WISED34
:

 ▸ Graham Brown-Martin, Chair (Learning Without Frontiers, UK)
 ▸ François Taddei (Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity at Paris Descartes University, France)

▸ Rosa-María Torres del Castillo (Fronesis, Ecuador)

▸ Ruth Wallace (Centre for Social Partnerships in Lifelong Learning, Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory, Australia)


What is Lifelong Learning (LLL)

Many people continue to associate LLL with adult education or to use it as equivalent to lifelong education or continuing education. The term itself, however, is selfdescriptive and should provide no room for confusion: Life Long Learning means learning throughout life, "from the cradle to the grave." This is, in the first place, a fact of life: learning is a continuum, lifelong and lifewide. Adopting LLL as a principle for policy formulation implies introducing major changes to the conventional education and training paradigms.

Awareness on LLL challenges the school-centered mentality. It looks beyond the school system and acknowledges the many other learning systems where we learn throughout life: home, community, the media, play, work, art, sports, social participation, the Internet and the virtual world, etc.

LLL also challenges the traditional focus on education and on teaching. Learning is the main concern, in and out of school. The main failure of the school system is precisely that there is lots of teaching but little learning taking place.

▸ See: Rosa María Torres, Lifelong Learning in the South: Critical Issues and Opportunities for Adult Education, Sida Studies 11, Sida, Stockholm, 2004.

What do international agencies understand as LLL? 

Most of the agencies that use this term continue to associate LLL with adults and adult education, rather than with a lifespan perspective.

In OECD countries, and specifically in Europe, LLL emerged as an education and training strategy to ensure the necessary "human resources" for economic development.

Beyond definitions and glossaries, it is important to look at the content of policies and programmes labelled LLL. In the case of the European Commission, for example, in spite of the rhetoric on informal learning, four out of the five benchmarks established in the LLL Programme 2000-2010 (see below) were related to formal education, from early childhood to higher education. "The decreasing levels of low-achieving 15-year olds in reading and falling levels of adult participation in learning are among the largest concerns."

The goals were not met, as acknowledged by the
evaluation released in Sep. 2011. Not only "developing" countries (the South) but also "developed" ones (the North) have problems to accomplish agreed education and learning agendas.


European Union: Lifelong Learning benchmarks for 2010
1. EU average rate of early school leavers to be no more than 10%;
2. Total number of graduates in mathematics, science and technology in the EU to increase by at least 15% (achieved in 2004), with a decreased gender imbalance in these fields;
3. At least 85% of 22-year-olds to have completed upper secondary education;
4. Percentage of 15-year-olds who are low-achieving in reading to have decreased by at least 20% compared to the year 2000;
5. Average participation in lifelong learning to be at least 12.5% of the adult working age population (age group of 25–64 year).

Poverty, creativity and innovation 

There is lots of talk about innovation, creativity and problem-solving as qualities and skills of the 21st century. Currently, innovation in education tends to be strongly associated with modern technologies -- as if there was no innovation before the emergence of ICTs! Visions of innovation are rather futuristic and sophisticated, requiring specialists, experts, etc.
However, the most creative and innovative people in the world are the poor. They are born problem-solvers. Otherwise, they would not be able to survive. Surprisingly, we do not see this mentioned. If we want to learn about innovation and creativity, we should get out there, observe and live with the poor for a while.

The challenge is how to make schools and other learning institutions places where the poor can enhance - rather than inhibit - their innovativeness, creativity and problem-solving skills and expand them to other domains beyond survival and daily life.

See: Rosa María Torres, On Innovation and Education

Testing does not necessarily reflect learning

Tests and testing are not necessarily the best ways to capture learning. Additionally, standardized tests deny diversity, assume the classical "one-size-fits-all" approach.

PISA
(Programme for International Student Assessment) tests, proposed by OECD and for OECD countries, do not match the realities, needs and aspirations of most young people in the South. Often, these and other tests tell us what our children and youth don´t know rather than what they know and are able to do.

"Developing countries" are very diverse and face very different realities than "developed countries", also heterogeneous. If PISA tests were prepared in non-OECD countries, reflecting our cultures and realities, how would 15-year-olds in OECD  countries do in such tests? Underprivileged children and youth develop strong survival skills - essential for life and increasingly important in today's world - that wealthy children and youth often do not need to develop, at least at an early age.

▸ See: Rosa María Torres, Repensando el entusiasmo evaluador y las pruebas PISA (Spanish)

The "global banking education model"

Paulo Freire characterized the conventional school system as "banking education": learners who are considered to know nothing and teachers who think they know everything, and who deposit knowledge in their heads like checks in a bank.

That banking education model has now become global, among others thanks to the expansion of ICTs. Global teachers located in the North and eager learners located in the South, mere consumers of information and knowledge produced elsewhere and whose only knowledge credited is "local wisdom".

Since it decided to become a "Knowledge Bank", the World Bank acts as a global teacher offering ready-to-use knowledge and strategies for "development". All we have to do in the South is get trained and assimilate that information.

The global banking model is such because it reproduces the traditional teaching model at a global scale - the world as a global classroom is a usual metaphor - but also because it is incarnated by a bank and its international partners.


Neuroscience and pro-age education and learning

Over the past years, neuroscience is contributing key new knowledge on topics we had only vague ideas of. A better understanding on how the brain works, at different ages and in different circumstances, shows the need to review many conventional stereotypes on education and learning.

Now we are confirming that all ages are good to learn, and that each age has its own cognitive possibilities and limitations.

Within a LLL framework, and based on ongoing results from neuroscience research, I am developing the concept of "pro-age education and learning": let us allow each person - children, young people, adults, the elderly - to learn according to their age, rather than fighting against their age.

Unfortunately, neuroscience research and results are not reaching the population at large, not even teacher education institutions, policy makers, journalists, etc. 

▸ See: Rosa María Torres, Child learning and adult learning revisited 

The Basarwa in Botswana

I would like to tell you a story from Botswana. While working there with the Ministry of Education, back in the 1990s, I heard about an indigenous group called the Basarwa. They were well known because they rejected schooling. I got interested in understanding why. The explanation was simple: the Basarwa have seen or heard that schools punish children. In their culture, children's punishment does not exist. Adults relate to children through dialogue, not through fear. Parents love, take care and respect their children. Basarwa parents may be unschooled, but they are wise.

See: Rosa María Torres, Children of the Basarwa Niños Basarwa

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